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Weekly Recon, Week 10: An old friend of Florida deepens Tennessee’s misery

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Plus: Kentucky’s great escape, Vandy’s exceedingly rare feat, and Florida State’s trench of sorrow.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Last week:

I’ve been wanting to run a regular post scouting Florida’s opponents for years — and I really do mean years — but haven’t found the time or the format to do it. So I’m just going to suck it up and write it, call it Weekly Recon, and publish it Wednesdays.

This week, we’re ... pretending today is Wednesday!

Charleston Southern: 3-4; No. 197 in Sagarin; lost to Florida, 53-6

The Buccaneers, Florida’s lone true FCS opponent in 2018, were on a two-game winning streak heading into last weekend.

Then they faced off with excellent FCS squad Kennesaw State, and lost 38-10.

The Buccaneers did punt for 247 yards and gain 187 ... and the ESPN box score for the game suggests (in error) it was actually a 38-0 game

It’s great to be an FCS team!

Kentucky: 7-1, 5-1 SEC; No. 29 in S&P+; defeated Florida, 27-16

Last week, I wrote this:

These two things can both be true: Kentucky is having one of its best seasons ever, and Florida should still have beaten Kentucky to continue its decades-long winning streak.

Yeah, still true.

Kentucky staged one of the great escapes in recent college football memory at Missouri last Saturday, rallying for a game-winning touchdown on a final untimed down after a pass interference flag on the Tigers. The lead was the Wildcats’ first since early in the second quarter, and came after a historically inept half of offensive football in which Missouri recorded zero first downs and Kentucky scored its only points prior to that final touchdown on a punt return.

Kentucky’s defense remains legitimately great, with its shutdown of Missouri functioning as our best proof yet that the Wildcats might actually be able to stop Georgia this Saturday. But it would help if they could get big games from both quarterback Terry Wilson and running back Benny Snell on the same day: The only time Wilson’s three outings with 150+ passing yards and Snell’s four games with 125+ rushing yards overlapped this year was, naturally, on that Saturday night in The Swamp.

Colorado State: 3-6, 2-3 Mountain West; No. 115 in S&P+; lost to Florida, 48-10

The Rams are still bad on offense, bad on defense, and bad on special teams, per S&P+, but they crept into the top 80 on offense after a 34-21 loss to Wyoming ... at No. 78.

Mike Bobo is dealing with an extraordinary health challenge right now, and is well-protected from a firing by a prohibitive buyout — a relic of Colorado State getting what it thought was an ironclad buyout worked over by Florida when the Gators hired Jim McElwain and opting to make its next contract with a head coach even more airtight. But this loss dropped him to 24-24 in Fort Collins, and the heat is on, if at a simmer setting.

Tennessee: 3-5, 1-4 SEC; No. 83 in S&P+; lost to Florida, 47-21

Even in a decade that will seemingly come and go without a single 10-win season, Tennessee wins over Auburn, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

It has not, however, beaten a Will Muschamp-coached team.

Mississippi State: 5-3, 2-3 SEC; No. 14 in S&P+; lost to Florida, 13-6

Mississippi State just navigated a five-game, six-week stretch in which it played five teams in the current top-30 S&P+ without scoring or giving up 30 points and went 2-3 in those games. Their win over Texas A&M last Saturday was probably the strangest result of the bunch, as Nick Fitzgerald rebounded from three straight games with under 100 passing yards and 11 or fewer completions to throw for 241 yards and two touchdowns against the Aggies — and run his record as a starter against A&M to 3-0.

The Bulldogs’ reward for that is a game against Louisiana Tech that will serve as a one-week respite from the grind of the SEC before facing Alabama.

LSU: 7-1, 4-1 SEC; No. 13 in S&P+; lost to Florida, 27-19

LSU rose two spots in S&P+ this week, largely because Appalachian State, Florida, and Wisconsin lost. It remains blocked from the top 10 by national powers UCF and Utah.

LSU is No. 3 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings because it has played a lot of recognizable teams and won most of those games, or at least the ones in which its quarterback didn’t panic for the entirety of a half and then throw a pick-six

Please believe this team is about to lose miserably to Alabama.

Vanderbilt: 4-5, 1-4 SEC; No. 74 in S&P+; lost to Florida, 37-27

Vandy scored 45 points against an SEC team last Saturday. Yeah, that SEC team was Arkansas — which counts two wins this season, over Eastern Illinois and Tulsa squads outside the top 100 in Sagarin — but still: Vandy scored 45 points! On an SEC team! How often does that happen?

Oh, it happened in 2015, when Vandy put up 45 on a 9-4 Tennessee team? Surely it’s not that rare, right?

Wrong. Prior to 2015, Vandy had most recently scored 45 points against an SEC team in 1971 against a 2-9 Mississippi State team so bad that one of its wins came over Furman. The other team to lose to those Bulldogs must have been terrible!

(Do not look up what team that was, please.)

Anyway, Vandy has scored 45 points against SEC teams three times since the Korean War, two of those three instances came against two-win teams, and the third came over a 9-4 Tennessee team. Have some self-respect, Tennessee.

Georgia: 7-1, 5-1 SEC; No. 5 in S&P+; defeated Florida, 36-17

Y’all watched the game. I don’t need to belabor any points about it, I hope.

While it’s nice to believe that Georgia is on upset watch this weekend against Kentucky, S&P+ gives the Dawgs a 70 percent Win Expectancy or better in each of its final four games, and thus about a 43 percent chance of running the table. And this is far from as good a Georgia team as the one Kirby Smart had a year ago.

Playing in the SEC really helps keep your seasonal goals in sight even after losses.

Missouri: 4-4, 0-4 SEC; No. 27 in S&P+; faces Florida Saturday

You can be No. 27 in S&P+ and 0-4 in the SEC, as it turns out.

Missouri barely fell in S&P+ after playing better football than Kentucky for like 58 minutes even though 28 of those minutes featured utterly wretched offense, but its offense mustering just 10 and 14 points in back-to-back games against the best defenses in the SEC has ruined any hopes of a truly special season in Drew Lock’s senior year.

Lock, though, will become one of the rare collegiate QBs in history to make four starts against Florida — and if he’s still swinging the pendulum back toward balance after truly abominable starts in 2015 (16-for-39, two picks) and 2016 (4-for-18, two pick-sixes, more yards on those pick-sixes than on his completions) and a great one in 2017 (15-for-20, 228 yards, three TDs), he’s due for another big game against the Gators.

Of course, if you believe that “swinging the pendulum back toward balance” is poppycock, you might think he’s just as capable of another meltdown.

South Carolina: 4-3, 3-3 SEC; No. 52 in S&P+; faces Florida November 10

Will Muschamp has led his team, No. 52 in S&P+, to three SEC wins.

Miracle worker, if you ask me. Keep him forever, South Carolina.

(South Carolina is projected by S&P+ to lose to Ole Miss this Saturday.)

Idaho: 3-5; No. 166 in Sagarin; faces Florida November 17th

Idaho lost by 24 to an Eastern Washington team that isn’t even really a good Eastern Washington team, by the Eagles’ standards ... and moved up one space in Sagarin.

Sure. Whatever. I hope Florida wins this game by 70.

Florida State: 4-4, 2-4 ACC; No. 68 in S&P+; faces Florida November 24th

Finally: You can be No. 68 in S&P+, give up 59 points at home, and still (!?!?) have hopes of a .500 ACC record, it turns out.

Sure, FSU would have to beat N.C. State and Boston College teams that sit inside the top 40 of S&P+ to do so, but c’mon: Willie Taggart believes he has the program pointed in the right direction despite ... uh, everything.

Q. The worst home loss in program history. Do you still feel like your program is heading in the right direction?

WILLIE TAGGART: I do. I think a lot goes with it. A lot of time -- changing our mentality and I think mentally we’re a weak football team and we’re not mentally strong yet and that’s part of the culture to changing it to what you want. There’s a lot of good things and a lot of progress has been made. Not as fast as we want in the win/loss column but it’s being made. This game, we made too many mistakes and didn’t play well when we needed to.

Ah. Well. Uh. The Seminoles are trying really hard, right?

Q. I know you said your players quit; in what areas did they exactly quit in?

WILLIE TAGGART: Well, I just felt like we didn’t compete like we were competing at the beginning of the game, and when things didn’t go our way, we didn’t compete and finish plays and finish the game like we’re capable of. I think whenever you’re out there on the football field, if you’re not competing, then you’re in the wrong spot, and you shouldn’t be competing at a high level. That’s every individual. We didn’t get that out of a handful of guys.

Shoot. At least Taggart could find some inspiration from his previous horrid starts, right?

Q. Obviously with other programs that you’ve been with and with your time that you were at South Florida where there was some adversity and you overcame that and found a way to win and obviously recruited the guys that you needed, what can you say about the Florida State situation right now and being in there in your first year? Obviously fans want to win, there’s a rich tradition there. How have you been kind of responding to the adversity and kind of taking back from maybe some of the other experiences you’ve had?

WILLIE TAGGART: Well, you’ve got to stay the course. You’ve got to stay the course and what you believe in and how you do things, knowing that things don’t happen overnight. They’re not going to change overnight. And when you’re changing a coach, that definitely doesn’t change. Understanding those things, I think the key is as long as there’s progress while you’re trying to get to where you’re going, then things will eventually turn.

I know when I say progress, sometimes you don’t necessarily see it on the football field, you see it in other areas, and then you also have got to understand your team and where you’re at and what’s holding us back, and you try to work on those things daily, knowing that, again, it’s not going to happen overnight, but you’ve got to stay true to who you are and what you’re doing and make sure you’re constantly evaluating everything, but don’t steer off. I think that’s why we got to where we did at other places, because we didn’t, and I think here at Florida State, like you said, it’s such a rich tradition, and our fans haven’t been in this position before. All this is new to them, too, so they’re learning. We need them to continue to have expectations because that’s how we’re going to get back to where we need to be quicker, but it’s not -- the situation we’re in now is not like those situations when we took over. Those situations that we took over at Western Kentucky was on a 20-game losing streak. I went to South Florida we had lost three games the year before I got there.

This situation is not like those from that standpoint. I think it’s still down and out because of our storied tradition and the high expectations we have for our University and our football team. But we’ve got to work. We’ve got to recruit, and we’ve got to keep teaching.

I ... just. I dunno. Is that an answer? Is that supposed to make anyone at all feel better? (I guess it makes me feel better, but that’s maybe not the point.)

Taggart has a 51-54 record as a head coach now, and that’s mostly because he’s started by bottoming out at every stop.

He went 2-10 in his first season at Western Kentucky, then lost the first four games of the next season before the Hilltoppers won 14 of his final 21 games in charge. At USF, Taggart’s teams went 2-10, 4-8, and then started 1-3 — a combined 7-21, if you like math — before stringing together three consecutive wins, but won 18 of his last 22 games. In his one season at Oregon, Taggart’s Ducks started 3-0, fell to 4-4 — losing three straight by 17 or more points — and rallied to finish 7-6.

There is precedent for Taggart-coached teams being horrible before figuring things out.

But Florida State fans are not programmed to deal with horrible, not even momentarily — and FSU is currently horrible, now projected by S&P+ to drop three of its last four games by at least a touchdown. The valiant defense that has been keeping the Seminoles somewhere close to mediocre all year utterly collapsed after holding Clemson scoreless for a quarter, and the offense — which is now No. 111 in S&P+, or worse than the final ranking of any Florida offense this decade — scored its 10 points on a field goal kicked while down 45-0 and a touchdown scored while down 59-3.

Florida State is going to lose in blowout fashion to Notre Dame, but it could surprise one of NC State and Boston College, and could welcome Florida to Tallahassee with hopes of maintaining its (dubious) bowl streak. Honestly, though, I think that would take these Seminoles showing fight that they haven’t quite had all year.